MADISON, Wis. – As Ethan Happ was putting together an All-America season last year, Kaleb Wesson was still living at home and working on cutting his weight and getting into better shape for his Ohio State career.

Saturday evening at the Kohl Center, they met early and often in the paint. And on this day, with some help from his teammates, the Buckeyes freshman got the upper hand on the Wisconsin junior. In his fifth career start, Wesson scored a career-high 19 points in only 17 minutes to help Ohio State post a record-breaking win against the Badgers.

At the other end, Happ was held to a season-low seven points on only six shots.

“He’s got some skills around the basket, which is good for him to be able to use either hand around the rim,” Happ said of Wesson. “He’s going to grow into an even better player.”

Wesson was active in every facet of the game. He hit a three-pointer to help fuel Ohio State’s big first-half surge. He spun and scored on Happ on two occasions. On one defensive possession, he sprawled on the floor to save a loose ball from going out of bounds right in front of the Ohio State bench. Then, on the ensuing possession, he again saved a ball from going out of bounds at the opposite end of the court – after his teammates and coaches on the bench helped haul his 6-9, 270-pound frame back upright.

“I’ve always been the type of player to get on the ground when I need to,” Wesson told The Dispatch after the game. “I feel like I got hot. My team put me in great spots to be successful and that’s all I can attribute it to, my teammates.”

Wesson finished with four fouls, but he was able to remain on the court during the first half and play with two fouls without picking up a third. Coach Chris Holtmann cited that development when looking back on Wesson’s game.

He wasn’t alone in defending Happ, though. The Buckeyes doubled the junior every time he touched the ball, often bringing Keita Bates-Diop and his lengthy frame to help disrupt his passing lanes. Happ entered the game as only major conference player averaging at least 17.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists.

Until Saturday, his averages sat at 17.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

“He was a big focus, a real big focus,” Holtmann said of Happ. “He’s so good and he’s so skilled and he maneuvers around the rim so effectively but I thought both our guys guarding him and our other four guys were pretty connected in their approach in defending him.”

Wisconsin coach Greg Gard was complimentary of Wesson.

“He’s a good player,” he said. “We knew he’s a load in the post. We had to keep the ball out of there more. We got caught late getting back to him … and he made us pay. When we did adjust some things he was still able to sit on us.”


Holtmann used his fourth different starting lineup of the season, putting C.J. Jackson on the bench, starting Jae’Sean Tate at the point and adding Kam Williams to the starting lineup.

Whether it directly correlated to Ohio State’s impressive start or not, it didn’t hurt the Buckeyes.

“Definitely I want to thank the coaches for putting confidence in me,” Tate said. “There’s still certain things I’ve got to work on. I think I messed up on a couple of plays, but I love them for having that confidence in me, especially because it’s so new to me. When I’m out there, I’ve just got to change my mind-set. When you’re the 3 or the 4 you worry about doing your own job. When you’re the point guard, you’ve got to worry about everybody doing their job, setting the table. It’s a work in progress. I’m not perfect at it, but I’m hoping to continue to improve.”

Tate finished with 16 points, four assists and three turnovers in 28 minutes. Williams had nine points after going scoreless in two of his last three sandwiched around an eight-point effort against Butler. It ties for his second-best scoring output of the year.

Jackson, meanwhile, had 10 points, two assists and just one turnover in 26 minutes. He drained his first three three-point attempts.

“I think our lineup’s going to be pretty fluid throughout the year, so they’re going to have to adjust to that,” Holtmann told me. “I think our guys know that. I thought C.J. gave us a huge lift. It’s what he does. He’s a really capable scorer, and he made better decisions with the ball. He just has to continue to make some better decisions with the ball, whether he’s playing the point or the 2.”


In my recap, I opened things up by describing how the buckeyes started their day with a walk-through in an unusual situation. Here’s a tweet from the team’s official Twitter page showing what they went through:

Beautiful (and cool) day in Madison, WI for a parking garage walk thru  #GoBucks

— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) December 2, 2017


“If you watched the last 3-4 games, you’ve seen that we’ve been up on teams, so we know that we’re able to play with some of the top teams in the country. It’s just finishing out the games. It was all on the leadership of our team, starting with the coaches to say we have to be tired of losing and draw the line and do the things we’ve done in the earlier parts of the game at the end of the game. That was one of the emphases we put on, drawing the line, doing our job the whole 40 minutes.” – Tate, on why Ohio State was able to sustain its efforts.


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